John Vogl’s Inside the NHL: For Pegula and Sabres, it’s only money - The Buffalo News

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John Vogl’s Inside the NHL: For Pegula and Sabres, it’s only money

Let’s start by saying money doesn’t mean the same to Terry Pegula as it does to the general population. He’s worth $3.1 billion, according to the latest Forbes evaluation. How much is that exactly? He can blow $1 million every single day for the next 8½ years before going broke.

With a checkbook that size, it’s not a big deal to give Tyler Myers an ill-timed signing bonus or pay Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Nathan Gerbe to not play in Buffalo.

The high price of being bad is starting to add up for the Sabres, though.

Buffalo’s financial plan changed when Pegula took over in February 2011. Other avenues opened for the organization, including buyouts, front-loaded contracts and big-dollar acquisitions. The new collective bargaining agreement gives the money-laden Sabres another outlet with the addition of salary retention during trades.

The Sabres have done it all. The most recent trend is paying their captains to play for other teams.

Buffalo is bankrolling nearly $2.1 million of this season’s salaries for Vanek and Pominville. The willingness to do so got the Pominville deal done because Minnesota didn’t have enough cap room for the winger. The Sabres essentially bought a draft pick from New York in the deal that sent Vanek to the Islanders for Matt Moulson and first- and second-round selections.

The spending worked. Still, it’s a lot of cash tossed away. It goes with the $616,666 spent to buy out Gerbe (who entered the weekend as Carolina’s leading goal scorer). That’s nearly $2.7 million from Pegula this season for players who aren’t on his team.

He and General Manager Darcy Regier have misused even more money for guys still on the club.

Myers cashed a $10 million signing bonus last season despite people forecasting a lockout, which meant the defenseman earned $232,723 per game rather than the $146,341 he’d have taken home in a normal season. Ville Leino pocketed $11.2 million the previous two seasons, which worked out to $1.12 million per goal and $361,290 per point. Drew Stafford, one of the first contracts of the Pegula era, is making $4 million to skate on the fourth line.

Again, that’s Pegula’s prerogative since he has money to burn. The same probably can’t be said of season-ticket holders, like the ones in 100 Level II who’ve seen their per-game cost rise 21.6 percent during the present ownership.

Biron was beloved

Martin Biron has settled back into Western New York following his recent retirement. The goaltender left a positive legacy, especially in Buffalo, during a career that spanned 16 seasons. The affable Quebec native is already missed by his former Rangers teammates.

“Anyone you ask about him has nothing but positive things to say,” New York defenseman Michael Del Zotto said. “He came to the rink every day with a smile on his face, always engaged in the room. He gets a lot of heat about not staying quiet and always talking, but he was just happy to be at the rink, happy to work hard, happy to be part of the team. He was great.”

Breaks don’t go Flames’ way

When organizations spend up to $64.3 million per season on players, they have a right to expect their guys to take whatever steps possible to stay healthy. In fact, the Calgary Flames are insisting upon it.

After losing captain Mark Giordano and West Seneca native Lee Stempniak to broken ankles from shots, Flames General Manager Jay Feaster ordered every player to install extra protection on his skates.

“Obviously, Jay’s the boss and that’s the way the world works,” Flames defenseman Shane O’Brien said. “The way guys are shooting the puck nowadays, it’s probably a smart decision.”

The players initially felt like they were skating with ankle weights, but they quickly grew accustomed to the covers.

“It’s just something you put on your skates — nothing special — but it helps a lot,” forward Sven Baertschi said. “It always hurts as soon as you get one off the foot. Now with these things, it’s not going to hurt anymore.”

Finally, Toews plays at home

I don’t like Winnipeg. It’s my least-favorite NHL city. During my only trip, we heard last call at two downtown establishments and were still back at the hotel by midnight. Leaving Buffalo in winter and arriving somewhere even colder isn’t fun.

Plus, as a former Georgia resident, I know the Atlanta Thrashers could have succeeded with good ownership and management, and the Jets would still be in the South.

Jonathan Toews, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get to Winnipeg this weekend. The Chicago captain played in his hometown for the first time during the regular season Saturday.

“When anyone asks me why I want to be a hockey player, that’s where it all started was watching the Winnipeg Jets play as a young kid,” Toews said. “I never really thought throughout those years when there was no team in Winnipeg that I’d ever get the chance to go back, so it’s pretty amazing the success their team has had and how crazy the fans are and how much people love hockey in Winnipeg.”

On the fly

• Boston winger Loui Eriksson, concussed last month by the Sabres’ John Scott, has passed his exertion test. He’s resumed off-ice workouts and, barring any setbacks, could be on the ice this week.

• Only four players entered the weekend with a worse plus/minus rating than South Buffalo native Patrick Kane. The Chicago forward was minus-9 despite seven goals and 11 points in 13 games. “It’s a number that obviously doesn’t look good,” Kane said. “It’s not something that’s going to change overnight. It will be a long road back to try and get into the plus column, but I’m confident I can do it.”

• The Washington Capitals are desperate for help on defense. The Sabres have eight blue-liners in Buffalo (including injured Mike Weber) plus Alexander Sulzer, Brayden McNabb and Chad Ruhwedel in Rochester.

• Pending unrestricted free agent Marian Gaborik led Columbus with 10 points in the opening 10 games, but there haven’t been any contract talks. “I think he’s done a lot of good things, and I think he could do more,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He could be the driving force of the team. I’d like to see him taking charge, driving the team with his example — not only with the points but with everything else he does.”

• The concept of building through the draft isn’t foolproof. Edmonton went 3-9-2 in October. The Oilers have had 10 first-round picks during the last seven years, including the No. 1 overall selection three times.


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